(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Set on the campus of Appleton College, a small, prestigious New England women’s college where scholarship is emphasized, the action of The Small Room takes place in one semester. The primary focus is on the faculty, although necessarily a few students play important roles. The tale is told from the point of view of Lucy Winter, a twenty-seven-year-old woman whose broken engagement to a medical student marks a major turning point in her life. Academically well qualified with a doctorate from Harvard, Lucy, not really committed to teaching, is a new appointee to the faculty. Although in the center of activity on a college campus, Lucy feels lonely from time to time.

In the narrative, Lucy relates some of her classroom experiences. She believes that the relationship between professor and student should develop only around course work; for this reason, she refuses to listen to Pippa Brentwood’s tales of her recently deceased father. Lucy also sits in on a class taught by Harriet Summerson (Hallie) and is impressed by Hallie’s masterful handling of the learning situation. As an educator, Lucy is also a learner.

Lucy is also a learner as she becomes more familiar with Carryl Cope, whose friend Olive Hunt is one of the college trustees. Olive is vehemently opposed to the appointment of a resident psychiatrist to the faculty. Cope, too, appears to be against it, but Lucy suspects that Cope is being influenced by Hunt.

Lucy spends...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

The Small Room Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bloin, L. P. May Sarton: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978. In two parts, the first listing Sarton’s poetry, novels, nonfiction, essays, and articles. The second part lists secondary sources, including book reviews. A conscientious compilation of sources that is most useful to the Sarton scholar. The author acknowledges Sarton’s assistance in putting together this work.

Curley, Dorothy N., Maurice Kramer, and Elaine F. Kramer, eds. Modern American Literature. 4 vols. 4th ed. New York: Ungar, 1969-1976. A collection of reviews and criticisms of Sarton’s poems and novels, the latest entry being 1967. Includes criticism on Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, considered an important book and which the author says was most difficult to write. The supplement has reviews on Sarton’s Collected Poems.

Evans, Elizabeth. May Sarton. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. In this volume in Twayne’s United States Authors series, Evans upholds Sarton as a writer who speaks for women, insisting they claim their own identity; hence, her increasing popularity among feminists. An interesting addition to this somewhat standard criticism is an appendix of letters of Sarton’s to her editor while writing Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Selected bibliography.


(The entire section is 406 words.)